Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Time to yourself?

 Let me start by admitting what most of you already know:  I haven't considered myself as young for a very long time.  Next, I should tell you, I am not on TikTok.  However, you probably also know that I am curious.  When I saw a young woman screaming into a camera something like 'she loved TikTok and couldn't live without it, and if that destroyed the United States she didn't care' I decided maybe it was time for me to learn a little about TikTok.

One of my sources was a post on Oprah.  "The use of artificial intelligence--like using facial recognition for its filter and filling one's feed with highly customized recommendations--the app is able to provide its users with exactly what they want and nothing they don't want."  Their users are primarily ages 24 and younger."

Lyn with Clark's dog Jack and her dog Curley, pals through high school.

You have probably heard that America is concerned that China, which is the source of TikTok, may be using it as a tool to get a glimpse into American thinking through the choices and participation of American viewers.  I certainly got a glimpse of one such American when I watched that young girl screaming that she didn't care if America was destroyed.  Apparently, China thinks Americans between age 24 and younger have an attention span of 15 seconds, because that is the common length of the videos on TikTok! However, references to shorter and longer videos can be found.  The lengths I have found online range from 3 seconds to 12 minutes, with other lengths cited in between

Should America be concerned?  First, let me say that I have never watched TikTok and do not plan to watch it.  The concerns range from censorship to the influence of public debates to young people using it for social activism to manipulating popularity (or lack of popularity) by prioritizing content.

What concerns me is that young Americans are exposed to reinforcing an attention span of 15 seconds by watching clips that length consistently.  There is a certain discipline in learning to focus attention on something or someone for a long period of time.  It concerns me that we may be weakening that ability by reducing the habits of enjoying things that take lengthy attention.

It also concerns me to learn that China has banned Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.  Why would they maintain a platform that is shown worldwide but forbid  their own citizens from watching American programs.

TikTok says its mission is to "capture and present the world's creativity, knowledge and moments,"  adding that it allows young people to express themselves.  Remember, however, the common allotted time is 15 seconds.  How much worthwhile creativity and knowledge can be fit into 15 seconds?

One of Lyn's well-worn piano practice music books.

Now I am about to reveal just how very old I am, by describing how I used my idle time when I was 24 and younger.  Actually, after leaving high school I was a full-time student, a 30-hour a week employee, and a wife, so if there had been such a thing as TikTok it is very unlikely I would have had time to waste on it.  So, here are the ways I used my free time at age 18 and younger.

1.  I read books.  Lots of books of all kinds.  I traveled the world and went back in time and was rich and poor, male and female, black and white and brown, exploring the world, meeting countless nationalities, meeting heroes and villains, and experiencing countless other things because I lived those things in books.

2.  I drew pictures.  They weren't necessarily good, but I got better as I tried.

3.  I played the piano.  To be honest, much of the time I practiced because my mother required it, but I came to love it, because I was good enough to play popular music.

4.  I wandered.  I walked miles and miles on the sandy roods around the farm, often making up stories as I walked, wandering shelter belts observing trees and weeds and bugs and tracks in the sand, learning to mimic birds, and observing the natural world.

5.  I sewed, a skill my mother taught me that I have used my entire life.

6.  I followed my father around the farm, learning things from him, such as the names of trees, how to check seeds using damp paper towels between two pieces of glass, how to use tools, and listening to tales of his childhood.

7.  I cooked, helping my mother and becoming responsible for cooking in the summer while my mother worked in the garden and canned.

8.  I played--with the cats and dogs, with my family, with visiting friends and family--horse shoes, bat gammon, croquet.

9.  I learned how to be comfortable with solitude, perhaps to fill it with some activity but also to just enjoy being alone.

Those are the things that make me worry about today's kids who rarely live in solitude--without the television, without their phones, without their computers, without something or someone to entertain them.  

In making this list, I put reading first, because reading expands your mind, but I believe solitude is also essential for kids to learn to reflect on themselves and the world around them.  I am grateful that I grew up on the farm where I could see the stars at night and wander fields and pastures.  Few kids today have that experience, but somehow, they need to find solitude somewhere so they can discover how to be alone with themselves.  If 15 second "creativity, knowledge, and moments" are all that people are satisfied to have, that really is something to worry about.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Reporters getting it Wrong

Last week's blog brought a comment I appreciated, so I decided to answer it in this week's blog so everyone could enjoy the conversation.  The person did not leave a name, but the comment regarded the credibility of reporters in the past, specifically pointing out that even Walter Cronkite did not always avoid inserting his opinion or bias.  I felt that the person's comment deserved a reply.  

Probably the classic situation of Walter Cronkite expressing a personal opinion occurred not on the Evening News but rather on a special report on Vietnam that he hosted after visiting the war zone.  He specifically said, "I think if we examine this carefully, we have to see that there's a stalemate in Vietnam.  We're not going to win and the best thing we can do is get out."  No question that he did express an opinion, although not on the Evening News in that case.

The rules for reporters differed in the past.  In 1949 the Fairness Doctrine was introduced, requiring those who held a broadcast license to present controversial issues of importance with both sides.  Some of you will remember the dueling talking heads on television.

However, in 2011 the FCC abandoned that doctrine.  Here's the problem:  The First Amendment says, "...Congress shall make no law respecting...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...  There are some exceptions, the most common example being that you do not have the 'freedom' to shout "Fire" in a crowded movie theater.  However, for the government to moderate the news easily, there is a risk of violating the intention of the First Amendment.  It has been decided that it is better to rely on ethical standards established by journalism associations and individual news organizations, as well as the ethics of journalists themselves, than for the government to impose rules. These basic objectives of responsible news sources include truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability.  Unfortunately, not all reporters abide by those objectives today.

Newspapers that were once the primary source of news in America are dying.  Today television and the internet are the primary sources for news. Too many of us choose news sources that report what we want to hear rather that what we need to know.  Last week's blog offered some ways to search for accuracy, and in case you missed reading that you might want to scroll back to it.

There are examples of even reputable reporters and evening news hosts getting it wrong.  Some of you may remember in 2004 when Dan Rather reported that George W. Bush had received preferential treatment getting into the Air National Guard to avoid the draft, relying on what turned out to be a questionable source.  CBS fired executives for that, and Dan Rather ultimately stepped down.  In 2015 Brian Williams got in trouble when he stated on another evening show that he had been in a helicopter in Vietnam that was hit by a missile.  In fact, it was the helicopter ahead of him that was hit, but even so, being that close was probably frightening.  Williams blamed his memory of the event 12 years ago for having caused his mistake, but nevertheless NBC put him on leave for 6 months and he was replaced by another evening news host, even though the misstatement had not been made during his news broadcast.

I personally liked both of those newscasters, but Bravo to the networks for adhering to strict standards of accuracy.

Sadly, today preposterous misrepresentations and outright lies are reported with no repercussions.  If the freedoms we Americans enjoy are to continue, we must do our part.  With freedom comes responsibility.  Of course, those people getting rich from ownership of news sources should respect the importance of accurate reporting, but if they don't--and too many don't--it is up to us.  Learn to fact check and sample more than a single source if you want to be sure of what you read and what you hear.  If you feel a news source is not honoring "truthfulness accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability, perhaps you should consider finding other news sources.  It really is up to all of us, for if we stop tuning in, news sources will take notice.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

How Can You Tell What's True?

Collection of Powerful Newspaper Editors

 We live in a very challenging time.  My father lived nearly his entire life in the house in which he was born, except for perhaps 5 years or less when he worked for the Forestry Fish & Game.  He knew his neighbors and they knew him.  I have lived in 6 different states, and I can't count how many different houses.  Recently a workman mentioned a name, assuming I would know the person.  I didn't.  "I'm sorry," he apologized.  "He lives about 4 miles from you, so I just assumed you would know him."  I'm sure my Dad would have, but I didn't.  

My parents subscribed to at least three newspapers--Pratt Tribune, St. John News, and The Hutchinson News.  We watched Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News every night that he was on. Edgar R. Murrow highlighted important news for us from 1951-1958.  We were quite comfortable that we knew what was going on in our community and the world.  Of course, we didn't.   

We no longer need to depend on 30 minutes of news in the evening, nor of only one or two people delivering it.  We don't have to wait for our favorite news program.  We can get our news on television, the internet, and our phones.  But, we trusted Walter Cronkite and Edgar R. Murrow.  Can we trust all of the people delivering the news today?  Sadly, no we cannot, but what we can do is research what we are being told.

I spend a great deal of my time researching the blogs I write.  The internet is full of information, but sadly, it is also full of misinformation.  Even more sadly, many people are willing to go in search of what they want to believe, rather than what is accurate information.  However, all of us are at risk of sometimes being fooled, even when we are trying to get accurate information.

If you are a sport's fan, you know about 'instant replay.'  How many times have you been certain that the football was over the line or the other guy touched the basketball last, and been wrong when you watched the instant replay?  Instant replay is a great tool when it is used correctly, but my recent blogs have discussed how technology can also be abused.  In response to one of my blogs about students entering key words online to obtain a custom essay for the specific subject of an assignment, one of my blog readers shared how much time his daughter has to spend investigating the essays turned in by her students to determine whether it was written by a computer rather than the student.

This is the world in which we live.  If you have found a news source that you like and you consult   nothing else, you may be ill informed, particularly if that news source has a bias.  Most of us have certain biases, mostly harmless, but our source for accurate news should not be careless about facts.

So, how can we tell whether or not we are being misled?  Here are some suggestions:

    Start by watching or reading more than one source of information.

    Is there an obvious bias?  Or, are there conclusions that don't make sense?

    Is the source a journalist or just a commentator?  A commentator is free to share his or her opinion without explaining how the conclusion was reached.  A journalist is meant to tell facts accurately.

   Use your computer to fact check the information.  There are organizations and individuals who search out facts to determine the accuracy.  Don't rely on just one.  Some good cites may have a bias, perhaps left leaning or right leaning.  Or, sometimes people just get things wrong.  If you try several fact checkers, you can get a sense of possible bias on certain subjects, and that will help you decide whether to check another fact checker.  Here are some fact checkers I have used:;;; .   

Not all opinions stay on the opinion page, and even the most conscientious people can get things wrong.   Sometimes there isn't a single right answer, and bias is something nearly all of us struggle with.  But the ways we can be misled are becoming harder to recognize, and we need to do what we can to get things right.